I am going to assume that I don’t need to work hard to help you connect with the fact that we live in uncertain times. We don’t know how this battle against coronavirus will roll out. We weren’t ready for the sudden shut-downs late last week and we don’t know when we will be together in a new normal.
The staff team met early this week to try to figure out what our job is when most of the things we normally lead have been cut off. What is worship without a service? What is a meeting without meeting? What is church without gathering? And the overarching questions is how do we lead when we aren’t sure what is going on? One of the mottos that I have lived by is “every challenge is an opportunity”. So what opportunities am I seeing in this big challenge?
First, as a few others have pointed out, this is very very lent. We have been asked to give up something very good and important for a season: in-person social interaction. The challenge of “giving something up for lent” is to then pay attention to what is going on in us when we miss that thing. Have you noticed that when you give up chocolate, for example, you think about it three times as much as when you are allowed to have it? That is worth paying attention to, wondering about, and sitting in. There is an excellent article in the March issue of the Banner about mindfulness. I am guessing you have a little extra time to read now or in the near future; consider taking in that article. Mindfulness is paying attention. Lent is about paying attention. During the Coronavirus limitations I invite you to take time to pay attention. Pay attention to what is going on in your soul. Where do you turn for support and strength? What makes you anxious or angry or frustrated? Don’t simply try to stop those things or stuff them back down. Take the time to pay attention to what is going on in your soul and wonder what it might mean to let God speak his truth into those areas. And if you bump into something and you want to talk (or text or email) about it to help you process, that is what your spiritual community is for. We are not encouraging small groups to gather, but there is no reason you can’t leverage some of those relationships as places to discuss your thoughts and feelings on this journey. There are also pastors, elders, staff members…you usually know best who it is you can share with…dare to reach out with “can I talk to you about something?”
Second, I see this as an opportunity to practice something we have talked about: spiritual growth beyond Sunday morning. The recent leadership retreat (Saturday February 22) was an exercise in naming what is important to us as Immanuel community. Our representatives on that day came up with many good things, one of which was “learning outside of Sunday”. The opportunity we have in our present challenge is to experiment with what it looks like to learn when there is no Sunday worship gathering. We have considered putting on a service anyway and live-streaming it into people’s homes. We may yet do something like this, but we quickly realize that physically gathering is a big part of worship. Will you really sing along in your home during songs? And how will we have communion or participate in some of the other tangible parts of our worship? This is very real to me because when I think of preaching to a camera without a live audience I am doubtful I can even do it.
As you already received last week, Ruth Ann can send you some worship guidelines and we hope you experiment with home worship. We also hope to find a way to send you thoughts and reflections about the passages in Judges. The opportunity we are looking at here is for you to discover how much of this you can do. Who knows, maybe you will find out you are so good at this that you start a house church and invite some of your neighbours? Wouldn’t that be awesome? So let’s pay attention to our souls and experiment with learning in new ways. And as we do those two things let’s do one more: stay connected. As staff we will be connecting with you by email more than usual this first week. We hope to be helpful as we all transition into this reality. We realize that we are leading and adjusting on the fly and so we want to keep the conversation going. But we also would encourage you to find ways to be connected with each other. Check in on those in your circle, reach out to those who may need something you can give. We are all in this together; we as staff will do our best to lead and we invite you to participate as fully as you desire.
Finally, be patient. Be patient with yourself as you bump into your limits. Be patient with each other. Be patient with those trying to lead. Be patient with people losing their cool. Be patient with God; history shows and the Bible book Job teaches that God’s mysterious ways are often beyond our understanding. It is still better to believe he has this than to dive into the other option…that life and the world is simply random and out of control. It is my belief that we are going to come out the other side of this as stronger, deeper, more experienced people of faith. But as with all things in following Jesus, it is through facing weakness that we find strength, through vulnerability that we grow, through fully entering lent that we come to Easter.
We will celebrate Easter. It may not be on Sunday April 12 or it may not be altogether at 2626 Mayfield, but we will celebrate because our hope is in the one who conquered everything, even death itself!
Pastor Erick Schuringa